Talkin' Trade: Better to Move Up or Back?

Posted May 7, 2014

Trade back to collect more picks and realize value? Or trade up to get the one player you want? It’s a question with which many NFL GMs wrestle this time of year. The decision is crucial and can send a franchise over the top, or set it back.

So what’s better: Trading up or trading back? Here’s a look at nine trades involving Top 10 picks over the last five years, along with a final verdict on which team – the one trading up or the one trading back – got the better end of the deal.





DE Dion Jordan CB DJ Hayden
OT Menelik Watson

Looking to add a game-changing pass rusher, the Dolphins jumped up from No. 12 to No. 3 and selected Dion Jordan. To make the move, Miami also surrendered No. 42. Jordan played in 16 games (0 starts) and had 2.0 sacks, while Oakland ended up taking cornerback DJ Hayden at No. 12 (8 games, 2 starts, 1 INT) and offensive tackle Menelik Watson (5 games, 3 starts).

Verdict: Oakland, for now (trade back)

St. Louis


WR Tavon Austin
S TJ McDonald
QB EJ Manuel
LB Kiko Alonso
WR Marquise Goodwin
TE Chris Gragg

The Rams wanted to add some punch to their offense and return game entering the 2013 NFL Draft, leading to a trade from their spot at No. 16 up to Buffalo’s spot at No. 8 to grab Tavon Austin (13 games, 6 TDs). To move back, Buffalo acquired four picks and used them wisely, finding a starting QB in EJ Manuel, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year in Kiko Alonso, and an equally productive returner in Marquise Goodwin.

Verdict: Buffalo (trade back)





St. Louis
QB Robert Griffin III DT Michael Brockers
CB Janoris Jenkins
RB Isaiah Pead
OL Rokevious Watkins
LB Alec Ogletree
WR Stedman Bailey
RB Zac Stacy
1st Round (No. 2) Pick in 2014

This is the most difficult trade to trace in the study because of how many subsequent moves the Rams have made since the original deal. Originally, the Redskins jumped up from No. 6 to No. 2, and the cost of doing so was steep – first-rounders in 2012, 2013 and 2014 plus a second-rounder in 2012. After moving from No. 2 to No. 6, the Rams traded back once again, this time with the Cowboys to No. 14 (more on that trade below). Ultimately, Michael Brockers was taken at No. 14 and Janoris Jenkins was taken with the second-rounder obtained in the original deal. But when all was said and done, the Rams turned the No. 2 overall pick in 2012 into a seven-player bonanza, plus they still own this year’s No. 2 pick (and are rumored to be looking to trade that pick, too).

Verdict: St. Louis (trade back)



RB Trent Richardson LT Matt Kalil
WR Jarius Wright
S Robert Blanton
LB Audie Cole

In one of GM Rick Spielman’s best draft-day maneuvers, the Vikings dropped back one spot from No. 3 to No. 4 and still got their man (Matt Kalil – 32 games, Pro Bowler) while also stockpiling additional picks. Aside from Kalil, the other three players the Vikings selected through this deal are still on the roster, and this move also gave the Vikings flexibility to move back into the end of the first round to grab safety Harrison Smith. The Browns selected Trent Richardson after moving up a spot and they have since traded him to the Indianapolis Colts.

Verdict: Minnesota (trade back)



Tampa Bay
WR Justin Blackmon S Mark Barron
RB Doug Martin

To help a struggling passing game, the Jaguars jumped up two spots from No. 7 to No. 5 to grab their preferred receiver – Justin Blackmon (20 games, 6 TDs). But it was Tampa Bay who really cashed in on this deal, taking safety Mark Barron at No. 7 and parlaying the pick acquired in this deal with No. 36 to move up to No. 31 for running back Doug Martin. Both Barron and Martin started all 16 games as rookies and Martin also scored 11 TDs along the way to a Pro Bowl berth.

Verdict: Tampa Bay (trade back)



St. Louis
CB Morris Claiborne DT Michael Brockers
RB Isiah Pead
OL Rokevious Watkins

This deal is technically a product of the trade Robert Griffin III trade between the Rams and Washington Redskins in 2011 (more on that above). In this subset of the RG3 trade, the Cowboys jumped up from No. 14 to No. 6 to grab cornerback Morris Claiborne (25 games, 2 INTs). The Rams also grabbed a young defensive playmaker with this deal, selecting defensive Michael Brockers (28 starts, 9.5 sacks) at No. 14 and following that up with running back Isaiah Pead and Rokevious Watkins (now with the KC Chiefs).

Verdict: Toss Up




WR Julio Jones DT Phil Taylor
WR Greg Little
FB Owen Marecic
QB Brandon Weeden
RB Trent Richardson

Atlanta made perhaps the most aggressive move in this study, jumping 21 spots up to No. 6 to grab receiver Julio Jones, who has played in 34 games and has 20 TDs and 1 Pro Bowl appearance. If not for his injury last season, those numbers would be even better. The Browns turned their windfall of selections garnered from the trade into defensive tackle Phil Taylor (39 games) and Brandon Weeden (no longer with team). The Browns also used a pick acquired in this deal as part of the trade with the Vikings that allowed them to jump up one spot for Richardson, who is also no longer with the team.

Verdict: Atlanta (trade up)


QB Blaine Gabbert LB Ryan Kerrigan
WR Leonard Hankerson
RB Roy Helu
S Dejon Gomes
WR Aldrick Robinson
OL Mauric Hurt

I ruled against Washington in their trade for RG3, but they get the thumbs up in another QB-related trade from 2011. Sitting at No. 10, the Redskins consummated a deal with the Jaguars in which Jacksonville jumped up from No. 16 to grab Blaine Gabbert, who was traded to San Francisco this offseason. The Redskins, meanwhile, scored by selecting Ryan Kerrigan. In three seasons, Kerrigan hasn’t missed a game or a start, he has 24.5 sacks and 10 forced fumbles, and he’s been a Pro Bowler. The Redskins netted five other players in this trade, four of whom are still on the roster today.

Verdict: Washington (trade back)




NY Jets


QB Mark Sanchez C Alex Mack
RB James Davis
DE David Veikune
DE Kenyon Coleman
S Abram Elam
QB Brett Ratliff

The Browns made a series of three trades in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and it all started because the NY Jets made an aggressive move to jump from No. 17 to No. 5 to grab QB Mark Sanchez. The Jets made it to the AFC title game in Sanchez’s first two seasons, but in three seasons since the team has gone 22-26 with no playoff appearances and Sanchez is now a Philadelphia Eagle. Cleveland, meanwhile, eventually wound up with center Alex Mack at No. 21 and he’s been a stalwart on their offensive line ever since, starting all 80 games of his career while making two Pro Bowl squads. Davis, Ratliff and Veikune weren’t significant contributors, but the Browns got 58 starts and moderate production from both Coleman and Elam.

Verdict: NY Jets (trade up)